Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Today Jesus is teaching the disciples a lesson on God’s abundant love through a parable. I imagine that some of us might find parables confusing at times.
Our children learn about parables in children’s church through Godly play, and I find the way parables are presented to them as very insightful.
Before they are told a parable they are reminded that parables are old and valuable, given to you before you were born. Sometimes parables are hard to get into and you have to be ready to explore it. Parables are gift or present given to us.
It is important to note that Jesus was sharing the parable of the sower soon after moments of tension, conflict, and fear. It has not always been easy since the disciples have decided to follow Jesus. There was that time where they followed Jesus onto a boat and found themselves in an awful storm, so bad they expected to die. There was that sermon that Jesus preached telling the disciples their ministry will be like sheep going out into the midst of wolves and they should expect persecution as they stand up to the status quo. Even soon after this parable is told Jesus will be rejected by his hometown and then later betrayed and arrested and the disciples will scatter.
As we let our imaginations run wild and explore this gift of revelation, I am sure many of could relate to the use of different soils or environments that reflect the harsh realities of this world. There are those environments that leaves us vulnerable to others, the ones where the ground seems rocky and shallow, the places where sharp thorns consume and make us feel choked and isolated. As we take this imagery and allow it to the connect to the realities of our life, we may begin to think this parable is about dealing with places of pain, fear, and scarcity. Maybe we even want to call it the parable of Soils.
Yet it is hard though to ignore the imagery of the sower just scattering seeds at will, in crazy abundance. A sower who is not as concerned about the soils but more focused on making sure there is an abundant harvest.
I will be the first to admit that I am not an expert on farming and agriculture, but I do know that there are a few in our church who are. For the modern farmer or even average gardener the method of planting that the sower is using might make us scratch our heads and even distract us from the point of this story. Unlike today’s methods of farming, in ancient Palestine the common method of farming was scattering all the seed on the land you have and then plow the land. However let us not allow the method of planting distract us from the outcome of its effort and the significance of the story. The outcome of this sower’s approach of scattering seed in abundance is 100 fold, 60 fold, some 30.
I will be honest with you I do not normally speak in “fold” language. At first I thought it was a farmer thing, but I learned from one of our favorite agricultural professor church members that farmers do not measure crops this way either.
In my research of “fold” language I learned this about ancient agriculture, sevenfold harvest was a good year. Tenfold was a bumper crop of abundance. So if that is the case, 30 fold is enough to feed a village for a year, and 100 fold harvest would mean you would not have to work for the rest of your life. “Let anyone with ears listen!”…God’s kingdom and reign is one that is about abundance!
This abundance is made known to the world by the one telling the story, Jesus Christ, who is the great sower. It is in Christ’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection that God makes known to the world that an abundance of love will overcome fear, confusion, and scarcity. In his ministry Christ will find himself in places and situations where people feel like they are standing on rocky and shallow ground or exposed and oppressed by the powers of the world, and in those moments Jesus, through his words and his actions of compassion and inclusion, proclaims to them that God’s abundant love is always present with them in those difficult places. The cross and the empty tomb is the ultimate revelation that Jesus, the great sower, is the source of God’s abundant love for the world.
This parable has multiple layers of meaning and insight to God’s kingdom and purpose for the world. As Jesus is revealing to the disciples that God’s kingdom and reign is one based on abundance of love, he also revealing to his followers their own calling in God’s kingdom. Jesus’ parable inspires us to imagine how we live our own calling and respond to God’s abundant grace and love through Christ. As followers of Christ this parable teaches and inspires us that we are called to sow the seed of the Good News of God’s love for the world through Jesus Christ.
Like the disciples, there will be moments when we struggle with this calling and feel clueless on where and how we should be proclaiming and spreading the Good News. This parable is a great playbook for how we approach Christ’s ministry as a church. Jesus’ lesson tells all of his followers that they are called to proclaim the good news of God’s love through Christ through their own abundant words and actions where ever they go. They are called to spread the Good news of God’s love in every time and place and environment, even those time and places when the environment around them is difficult and uncomfortable.
What I find comforting about this parable and the promise it brings to Christ’s followers is that we are given permission to freely and abundantly proclaim God’s good news and love at all times, and hold tight to the promise that it will not be us that gives the growth of ministry, but our amazing God. There will be moments of set backs where it seems we are not successful in our efforts of ministry, in those moments we can hold tight to the promise that God’s abundant love and presence is still guiding us in our calling even if there is chance we may never see the fruits of our labor.
I give thanks for this playbook of ministry that Jesus has given us through this parable. These last few months it has been handy to rely on. Many different and difficult environments have surrounded us and yet thanks be to God our calling has not changed. Even if it seems different at church, our calling has remained the same to keep spreading the Good News and showing God’s love in all that we do.
A great example of this has been how we have been doing worship online and on the radio. There is no doubt it has been different but our goal has always been to keep proclaiming and sharing the good news of God’s love. There have been set backs and there is no doubt that at times it feels like we have no idea what we are doing in regards to technology, and yet all of us have been trying to sow the seed of Good news and spreading it where ever it will land. Because church members have been sharing our Youtube channel with friends and family we have learned that people have been worshipping with us that in normal circumstances would not be able to because they live somewhere else across the country or because they are homebound.
Usually in July we are gearing up for all our ministries that will begin in the fall. The reality seems to be that all those normal things that we do in the fall are most likely going to look different if the public health trends continue.
We have mentioned before that in order to ensure the well being of everyone in our church we will engage the ministries of our church in phases. Which phases we are in will be dictated by the health environment that surrounds us. Please know that our church staff and our church’s elders are beginning to plan what our various ministries of the church look like in each phases so we can stay true to our calling to keep spreading the good news and share compassion and love within and outside our church walls.
As we encounter this unique time together, I give thanks for Jesus’ lesson on what is most important in our ministry, that no matter what we keep proclaiming the abundance of God’s love and grace. There is a chance that our plans for all our ministries this fall might not quite seem to be clicking as we hoped and maybe some of them even fall flat on their face. In those moments may we remember that we just keep proclaiming God’s love and showing love to the world in all that we do and remember that while things might seem to be difficult we trust that God is providing the abundance and the growth.
So as the uncertainty of our surroundings and plans for the next few months lingers, may we hold tight to and trust God’s promise that our life and faith journey will always be surrounded by God’s abundant love and grace through Jesus Christ. As we find ourselves in difficult, challenging, and unique surroundings may we spread the Good News of God’s love in all that we say and do, remembering that God’s reign of abundant love in Christ overcomes all things and is present with us always. Alleluia Amen!